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Stations Of The Cross
IMDB Rating: 7.5/10 from 12 votes
Release: 4 September 2014 (Netherlands) /

Stations Of The Cross

Genre: Drama
Director: Anna Brüggemann,
Stars: , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
Synopsis: Maria is 14 years old. Her family is part of a fundamentalist Catholic community. Maria lives her everyday life in the modern world, yet her heart belongs to Jesus. She wants to follow him, to become a saint and go to heaven - just like all those holy children she's always been told about. So Maria goes through 14 stations, just like Jesus did on his path to Golgatha, and reaches her goal in the end. Not even Christian, a boy she meets at school, can stop her, even if in another world, they might have become friends, or even more. Left behind is a broken family that finds comfort in faith, and the question if all these events were really so inevitable. STATIONS OF THE CROSS is an indictment and, at the same time, the legend of a saint. It's a story of religion, devotion and radical faith, and the film itself comes along just as radical as the subject matter, telling the story in only 14 fixed-angle long shots, allowing the viewer to contemplate the interactions on screen in an ... Written by German Films Quarterly 1/2014

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Critic Reviews

I saw this film at the Berlinale 2014, as part of the official Competition. When reading the synopsis on the festival website, I was afraid at first that the chosen format of 14 scenes with a still camera, numbered and named as per the 14 Stations of the Cross, would effectively work out as a sort of harness. We've seen that many times before, when the format takes over and the contents suffers. Very soon, however, I was put at ease with the opening scene "1. Jesus condemned to death". I could not do anything further than eagerly await the rest of this wonderful film.

This initial 10-minute scene foreshadows everything that is to follow. I can say that now in hindsight, since the full extent of whereto this drama is heading, will be gradually handed over in bits and pieces in later parts. The central character is 14 years old Maria, but her hard-lined mother is also a key figure in the drama as it enfolds in 14 distinct scenes. The role of the father figure is next to negligible (even the french au-pair had more lines than he had).

Aforementioned first scene shows a priest with a group of 7 boys and girls, sitting around a table, talking about the essentials of what their further life will entail being a true Catholic. They are together in preparation for the sacrament of Confirmation, from which moment on they are expected to stand up for their faith, and to defend it against everything that deviates from the Ten Commandments and the Seven Sacraments, and to further uphold everything else advocated by the Catholic church before Vaticanum II (1962 to 1965). A very clear explanation is given about day-to-day practices, essentially resisting all temptations that are laid on your path by Satan. Another topic is bringing small sacrifices, like not eating a cookie, even when tempted while it seems so harmless. Other forbidden fruits are pop, jazz, soul and other such "modern" (not my words) music styles, allegedly all based on rhythms invented by Satan.

Main character Maria belongs to a Catholic family of hardliners, members of the Congregation of St Pius XII, practicing the very traditionalistic teachings of this congregation. Aforementioned opening scene makes perfectly clear that Maria is very prepared to take her faith seriously, including the small sacrifices that may bring her nearer to a good place in heaven. In the second chapter, where the family is walking through a park, she considers her coat and sweater as a luxury and takes them off in spite of the cold weather. She also refuses to smile when family pictures are taken. More such things happen, but she does not explain herself. She succeeds in annoying their mother, and thus unwillingly destroys the happy family atmosphere. We see this mother later on as having a firm hand in the religious upbringing of the children, while the father lets it all pass without interfering.

Apparently a side role but his importance becomes evident later on, is Maria's little brother who has not spoken a word since his birth. We get some hints that illnesses and handicaps can be "given" to us as a retribution for our sins, or to challenge the strength of our faith. Gradually Maria gets obsessed with the notion that she can trade her life for the benefit of her brother. She ignores everyone saying such a calling lies in the hand of God, and no one can decide that for himself.

Each and every scene that follows further portrays the mutual relations within the family, as well as how Maria interacts with others like school mates. The gym class scene may serve as a perfect example. Maria retracts while there is music played she deems belonging to one of the "Satan invented" categories. That is what she tells to the teacher to explain why she does not participate. One of her class mates makes a joke out of it when he subsequently refuses to run in circles while "forbidden by my religion". Others are more constructive by bringing up the notion of tolerance against other beliefs, indeed a good point to make in such circumstances. Exactly like the opening scene, this gym class scene serves as solid proof that a still camera need not be an obstacle for a vivid scene.

Not all chapters, however, go neatly along with their respective titles as literally derived from the 14 Stations of the Cross. A few times we feel an inherent shortcoming of the chosen format, being a very good find as a basic idea but the concept shows a few spurious cracks. Nevertheless, it did not hinder me too much, not feeling as a harness when considering the final product overall.

Strong performances by Maria as well as her hard-lined mother make this film into an indictment against any too fundamentalistic belief, whether it regards Islam, a protestant denomination, or Catholicism. Tolerance is the key word here, as rightly brought up by one of Maria's class mates. It cannot be that a strict interpretation of religious laws, or the rules imposed by whatever church, are extended to others being no members of that faith. Believers must allow room for other opinions. Strict adherence laid upon outsiders is always a bad thing, regardless of the good intentions of these religious laws. It can lead to extreme actions, demonstrated by Maria in later chapters of this wonderful film. If anything, it offers food for thought (but no solution) how to deal with people who go to any length to impose their beliefs on others. They probably do that with the best of intentions, but the side effects are worrisome. Some people may find that this film has turned religion into a caricature, uncalled for, but I don't think so, especially when reading the newspapers where we read about religious extremism all over the world.

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